When the doorbell rang that Saturday morning, I was expecting the postman, so hurried quickly, forgetting I was still wearing my onesie. It was not the postman, however – it was a stranger in a grey tweed suit, and I had unfortunately opened the door dressed as a panda. The man was rather short, with grey hair, and had a small briefcase, a brown bowler hat and half-moon spectacles which put me in mind of a librarian, yet I didn’t think he could possibly be a librarian, seeing as he was standing on my doorstep and asking me for the time.
“I’m sorry?” I responded.
“The time, sir. I was just wondering if you could give me the time.”
“Time for what?”
It was a stupid question, I knew, but I was more than slightly perplexed. It was all very well stopping a stranger on the street, when one has forgotten your watch and your phone is out of battery – though even that was becoming a rarity. This man, on the other hand, who I had never seen before in my neighbourhood, had rung my doorbell to ask for the time.
“Not the time for anything, sir. I was just passing by, I don’t have the time at the moment, and would like to know it.”
The conversation and his responses were making me more confused. I didn’t want to appear too blunt with the man and ask him what I really wanted to ask – which was “Who the f**k are you, what the hell are you doing at my doorstep and why can’t you just check the time yourself like any normal person?” – but the man seemed elderly, and had a genuinely innocent demeanour. So I did the English thing, and apologised to him.
“Sorry, it’s just a strange request really, that’s fine, it’s – “ I instinctively looked for my watch, but realised again that I was presently dressed as an endangered Asian bear, and thus didn’t have the watch on me. My phone, however, was on my bedside table. “I’ll just pop and get it for you.” I closed the door gently, ran upstairs and grabbed my phone. Reopening the door, I wasn’t sure if he was going to still be there – was this imagined? But he was there, looking at me expectantly.
“It’s, er, 3 minutes past 9.” I said.
He looked delighted. “3 minutes past 9, you say? Well, isn’t that something. What a time to be alive.” I didn’t really know how to respond to that. “Thank you, kind sir, I apologise for the interruption, I’ll let you continue your – er – work.” He glanced down at my attire once more and doffed his hat, then set off down the street.
I closed the door. I had been slightly too stunned to ask him any questions, but that was quite possibly the weirdest conversation I’d had in some time – probably since that time I had last encountered a drunkard (which, as it had happened, was the night before, but that wasn’t the point).
Anyway, that was the first time I met him; he came to my door and asked for the time. The next time I met him – that was when it got really weird.